In a fragmented freight industry that contends with a few hundred thousand fleets, the difference between running a tight ship and a freight hauling business that leaks dollars could be a fine line. Though technology has helped companies catapult themselves out from sticky situations with regard to operational efficiency, changing eons-old processes could be a tough ask, especially with large freight businesses.
Vector, a startup based out of San Francisco, is solving one hassle at a time, assisting trucking firms in streamlining their operations by replacing paperwork with electronic forms. The company’s advent in the space was with its cornerstone tool LoadDocs, a solution that helps firms improve workflows by collecting information from trucks on the road, digitizing it and forwarding it to shippers for invoicing. The innovation behind LoadDocs was one of the primary reasons for Vector finishing at #23 on the FreightTech 25 list.
“From day one, we wanted to focus on a product that addresses paperwork - something that has been the lynchpin of how the industry operates. Paperwork is how people communicate even today, it is how they collaborate from the start of a load to the end, getting the load and dispatching it, to finally invoicing for the load,” said Brian Belcher, COO of Vector. “We knew that by inserting ourselves at that lynchpin, it would give us a platform to be able to address the larger communication issues as to why this industry operates primarily over phones, email, and even fax.”
Belcher spoke about how the journey with LoadDocs over the last year had helped the company in solidifying its position in the niche, with its mobile application now being used by thousands of truckers for workflow communication.
“For us, Vector is about introducing a larger set of modules and tools around paperwork flow. One of our modules is a Vector back office, that has a series of solutions with a notable one called text extraction,” he said. “Once the documents are in the back office and in our system, we can intelligently read the PDF and auto-extract any text on this document.”
Understanding every minuscule fine print that shows up on the document could be vital, as the data could help in creating insights through sustained analytics. Regardless of these added benefits, text extraction from PDF documents would end up saving countless man-hours, as traditionally, personnel at the back office are required to key in information every time they land a document on their desk.
“We’re able to read a document, pull off relevant text that the team needs, and populate it into either their TMS or ERP through our integrations. Also, what we typically see after a month of them uploading a few hundred documents is that paperwork doesn’t necessarily have to be physical paper,” said Belcher. “We see many documents that the fleet has for itself that can be digitized or made electronic through reform.”
One of Vector’s clients, before they were initiated to LoadDocs, used to ask their drivers to submit payment information through physical paperwork, which was both laborious and time-consuming. But Vector helped overhaul that and made the process simpler by enabling drivers to scan the document and upload them to the system. A few months after this was set in place, Vector further helped reform the whole process by digitizing it from start to finish, eliminating the need for scanning and even the redundant phone calls between the drivers and the payroll team at the back office.
Vector has recently introduced a feature in its software suite, that can read handwriting, specifically concerning signatures on documents. “We now know the areas of the document that our clients care about. So whether it is about pulling up a table of information, putting data back in their ERP, or even about reading signatures - we can do it all,” said Belcher.
Vector’s roadmap for traction is about integrating its platform with the TMS companies out in the market, and getting the large carriers and shippers that are still swamped in archaic systems like the AS400 to move towards tools that make communication easier.
“For many of these large companies, it would be unfathomable to make them replace AS400 overnight, but you can still help modernize their process and technology. With integrations, we can allow them to keep core parts of their business intact, and introduce more modern applications on top of that,” said Belcher.
“The next module we’re building at Vector is about leveraging the integrations we have in the TMS and even AS400, and offer tools to the companies that are stuck but aren’t sure on how to proceed. I would say that LoadDocs helped us go from point A to point B, and with integrations in place and the modules that we are building, Vector would soon become a powerful tool for large freight companies out there.”